Although we all got to check out the trailer for Pete’s Dragon back in February, no one really got to see what Elliot the Dragon actually looked like as it was hidden in the trailer. Now in a recent interview with EW, David Lowery let out some of the secrets about the movie and the special effects.
First things first: The original Elliott — he of tubby belly, fire breath, and goofy, bucktooth demeanor — isn’t completely gone. “Certain things about the original design we loved: Big jaw, big snout, and a clumsy quality that we really wanted to not completely forget about,” says director David Lowery, who treated those essential traits of Elliott as but the tabula rasa from which they could build a new creature.
“David saw this furry, soft dragon that kids could imagine, when they go into the woods, could actually be there,” production designer Jade Healy adds, explaining that the 2016 Elliott is based primarily in the world of domestic mammals. Medieval illustrations and reptilian dragon archetypes were swapped for a more canine approach in order to build a soft, furry creature who wouldn’t be as frightening in a more realistic setting.
Crazy as it sounds, another big part of Elliott’s reinvention came from hours upon hours of funny animal videos online. To nail down the dragon’s inelegant movements, animators at New Zealand effects workshop Weta went deep into a zoological YouTube spiral. “There’s one video of a giant panda tumbling in his cave, and we looked at that again and again as our Elliott — this big animal who just doesn’t know what to do with his body,” says Healy.
Other animals are at play in the roughly 20-foot-tall beast, including the wings of an Australian flying fox, the fur of a polar bear, a roar somewhere in the vicinity of “lion, tiger, and elephant,” and, according to Lowery, the idiosyncratic tics of another persnickety species. “On a personal level, I don’t even see my dog at all…I see a cat,” says the director with a chuckle. “So much of Elliott’s behavior, when I gave direction, would just be based on this thing my cat did that morning when he was first waking up.”
Check out the image above and if you haven’t caught the trailer yet you can see it below as well. Pete’s Dragon will be flying into theatres on August 12, 2016